Inside BrewDog's $100mm+ cash machine

An "Equity For Punks" investigation, Four Loko STD kits, State of the Boozeletter™, more

On Friday, I published a big investigation at VinePair about BrewDog, a scandal-courting Scottish craft brewer that makes beer in the UK, US, Germany, and Australia, and has over 100 branded bars around the world. Even if you’re outside the beer world, you may have recently heard of BrewDog due to the open letter that hundreds of its former workers signed in June accusing cofounder/CEO James Watt of creating a toxic, growth-at-all-costs culture at odds with the company’s anti-corporate values. It’s strong stuff:

It is with you that the responsibility for this rotten culture lies. Your attitude and actions are at the heart of the way BrewDog is perceived, from both inside and out. By valuing growth, speed and action above all else, your company has achieved incredible things, but at the expense of those who delivered your dreams.

As it happened, when the letter hit, I’d already been working on a story scrutinizing BrewDog’s growth. Since 2009, the controversial craft brewer has powered its expansion in part with over $100 million brought in via its “Equity for Punks” crowdfunding rounds, in which average-Joe investor-fans can buy the company’s shares. The EFP program is remarkably sophisticated, and BrewDog’s US subsidiary is currently running one of these crowdfunding rounds targeting potential American investors. A Friend of Fingers with private equity experience, Ben Ostrow, got served some ads about it on social media, and decided to look at some of the company’s public filings out of curiosity. From there, he tipped me off, and this story was born.

Reminder: you—yes, you!—can tip your fearless Fingers editor about anything! Email me Anonymity available upon request.

The resultant piece was months in the making. It’s long because financial reporting is complicated, as is BrewDog’s EFP program. It’s got a lot happening: high-end private-equity buy-ins, customer-service snafus, questionable real-estate deals, and more. I also worked in this delightfully insane news about BrewDog’s recent “golden can” blunder, which broke during the editing process, because who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth:

I worked hard to make the story legible for non-finance types (a category in which I absolutely include myself) and I really hope you read it! But the TL;DR is that while it all appears to be perfectly legal, BrewDog’s offering to American investors looks like a pretty bad deal. “It’s just a really bad situation for those punks,” Ostrow told me. Read the story here, thank you.

State of The Boozeletter™

Thanks kindly for your patience over the past couple months as I’ve stopped publishing Fingers on its usual semi-weekly basis. I’ve been ~going through it~ a little bit of late, both personally and professionally, and I had to let Ye Olde Boozeletter slide for sanity’s sake. I’m fine, everything is fine, just been really busy with a couple projects and the small indignities of everyday life. Thanks for understanding.

Despite the reduced publishing schedule, Fingers continues to grow slowly and steadily. Welcome to all the newcomers! I’m glad to have access to your inbox, and not because I want to sell you bulk Cialis or anything. (Although… new revenue strategy for Fingers? Hmm.)

Another craft brewery union drive

On Sunday, around 60 workers at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing went public with their union drive, organized with United Steelworkers.

I don’t know much about Great Lakes or the drive, other than the little the Cleveland Democratic Socialists of America chapter (which apparently assisted with organizing) tweeted out. Great Lakes workers themselves also posted a brief note to their group Facebook page.

If the drive succeeds, it’ll be one of just a handful of unions in the craft brewing industry, which despite tough conditions and low pay saw minimal organizing during last decade’s boom. The most recent craft brewery to go union was Fair State Brewing Cooperative in Minneapolis last fall; their colleagues at Surly Brewing Co.’s beer hall lost a hard-fought election by a single vote around the same time.

Now it’s up to Great Lakes, the oldest and largest craft brewery in Ohio, to either voluntarily recognize the union (which, per a quick item in the Cleveland Scene, includes warehouse workers, truckers, brewers and bottlers, but not brewpub staff) or kick off a union-busting campaign to try to kibosh the drive.

More to come, I’m sure, but in the meantime, here’s some other recent beer/labor coverage from me:

Four Loko gets it, man

The flavored malt beverage brand/beer biz bête noir is currently running a promotion in which you can enter to win free STD (or are they called STIs now? I don’t know) testing kits:

Is there a beverage-alcohol brand that understands its customer base better than Four Loko right now? After last decade’s caffeine-addled brush with the Food and Drug Administration, the brand really seems to have embraced its black-sheep status in a way that’s honestly kind of endearing. The STD kit campaign might not earn it a standing ovation from the marketing establishment, but then again, Four Loko’s whole goal here was to thwart the clap. HEY-OOOOh no that was dumb, actually, sorry.

Greenwashing couldn’t save Coors Seltzer

My fellow beer journalist/surname buddy Jess Infante reported last week that Molson Coors would put Coors Seltzer out of its misery after a truly lackluster 11 months on shelves.

Friends of Fingers may remember that Coors Seltzer launched with an extremely eco-friendly marketing campaign in which the brand promised that every time you bought a 12-pack, they’d help restore 500 gallons of river water. It’s a nice idea but one that was at odds with the parent company’s political contributions. As I reported last fall:

In 2019-2020 alone, [Molson Coors’] PAC donated a total of $55,000 to 19 federal lawmakers (or their PACs) with clean-water voting records of 50% or less in the 116th Congress. Those scores come from the Clean Water Action, a 501(c)4 that has worked to protect America’s waterways since Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Now that’s what I call greenwashing, baby! If you can’t believe that the Coors brand would promote itself on the basis of water quality while also endangering water quality, I regret to inform you they’ve done it before:

Go figure! Anyway, Coors Seltzer is out. (Wonder if Molson Coors already knew it was going to kill the brand extension when it put out that chest-thumping ad about MGD never making a hard seltzer the other month. Hmm.) At BrewBound, Infante reported that the company is telling its distributors to replace it on shelves with Vizzy or its Topo Chico hard seltzer joint venture with Coca-Cola. Rivers, you’re once again on your own.

The perfect packaging for overpriced/-hyped smoothie beers doesn’t exis…

Seems like only a matter of time now before a hazecannery starts selling its $35-a-four-pack fruit-puree bombs in these nifty transparent cans, right? Hope they have plenty of tensile strength…